The First to Open

What was left of a c-store became a lifeline for a storm-ravaged community.

May 30, 2023

By Al Hebert

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—When hurricanes threaten the Louisiana Gulf Coast, convenience stores are the last to close before the storm. They are the first to open to help the community get back to normal.

Now, imagine a storm with 150-mile-per-hour winds and an 18-foot storm surge.

This was Hurricane Laura. The storm made landfall on August 27, 2020, just south of Lake Charles, Louisiana.

The hurricane left 33 people dead and caused an estimated $17.5 billion in damages. ShopRite/Tobacco Plus store number 20 in Lake Charles was destroyed. Two days later, a small group from the management team was implementing a plan to help the community get back on its feet.

“We were down here working on August 29. It took us two days to get everything coordinated. We did great. We were rolling. Our wholesale distributor has a food truck that was brought in. It was a matter of coordinating everything. We were getting the lighting in place, getting propane and generators. It took us 24 hours to think and 24 hours to act,” said Angelle Cloud, director of foodservice compliance and corporate dietitian.

To appreciate the challenge they were faced with, one must understand the devastation. There was no power, only intermittent cell service, no running water and streets were impassible because of fallen trees and power lines. The scene was post-apocalyptic.

“Everything was out. I didn’t see any power coming or going. There was a lot of debris in the road. You were trying to drive around phone poles and roofs. We were down here before the road crews,” described Cloud.

This article originally appeared in the Gas Station Gourmet column of the May 2023 issue of NACS Magazine. Read the remainder of the article in the digital PDF version of the May issue.

Al Hebert is the Gas Station Gourmet, showcasing America’s hidden culinary treasures. Find him at